Why it doesn’t Suck: Music from the seventies VI

Today, I’m featuring music from the seventies by The Carpenters, and will do it without any sense of irony — not even a wisecrack, promise! The Carpenters was the bane of 70s FM album-oriented radio (meaning that AM radio was their domain). The Carpenters was as commercial as it got. This was far away from Pink Floyd, Blue Cheer, King Crimson, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, all of whom tried to expand the boundaries of music, often creating music that was, uh, rather challenging to listen to; but when the “experiment” worked, it produced many of the masterpeices of rock music for which the seventies have become identified.

The Carpenters would have none of that. No experimentalism here. They were going for what sold. The sure thing. We all know that. But The Carpenters did the “Sure thing” very well. The sure thing was their thing, and it suited their style, their image, and their talents. What I respect is the fact that they came upon their commercialism honestly, without the slightest hint of awkwardness. They sung the songs they were meant to sing, inviting you into their perfect world, for a short time.

Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote “Close To You” in 1963, which, as was the case for all Bacharach/David songs, was first recorded by Dionne Warwick but not seeing the light of day until arrangements were added to the demo in 1964. Richard Chamberlain released it first in 1963, as the title “They Long To Be Close To You” (no parenthesis), the flip side to his hit “Blue Guitar”. This was later picked up by Dusty Springfield in 1964. It was sitting around in the vaults until 1967 when it finally appeared in her album “Where Am I Going?”. It was also covered by Herb Alpert during that time also. Even Burt Bacharach himself tried to make it a hit in 1968, but it flopped. The song remained in obscurity until Karen and Richard Carpenter recorded it in 1970. The song, whose title was slightly modified to “(They Long To Be) Close To You”, became a huge hit, staying at #1 for four weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100. No one I’m aware of was ever able to make it a hit before or since. Not even Frank Sinatra, who sung it a year later. It became the song that was immediately identified with The Carpenters, winning them a Grammy Award in 1971. This song seems to make cameo appearances on The Simpsons from time to time also.

This is a great video in that we get to see Karen both sing and play drums.

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Why it doesn’t suck: Music from the seventies III: Kenny Loggins

It was 1972, and while commercialism of the music industry was on the rise, there was still enough genuine and original songs to call 1972 a high water mark in popular music. Things got even better in ’73, but then a long, slow decline happened that persists to this day. In my opinion, 1972 was also the high water mark of Kenny Loggins’ music. After this, he started over-commercialising himself, especially with the soundtracks: Danger Zone (Top Gun), Footloose (Footloose), and I’m Alright (Caddyshack) are three over-played songs on radio that immediately come to mind.

“Danny’s Song” is a tune penned by Kenny Loggins during his time with Loggins and Messina that fits in with a number of songs of that period that you can imagine a kindergarten or grade 2 teacher teaching their kids to sing. It is wholesome, with just the right amount of sentimentality that, I think, hits everyone at a basic level. Kind of like “Yellow Submarine”, or “This Land is Your Land”.  When Anne Murray sung this tune a year later, she was nominated at the 1974 Grammies for best female vocalist. She was up against Roberta Flack (“Killing Me Softly”), and won the Grammy in 1974. It is one case where, while the cover was a bigger hit than the original, the original still stands on its own.

The period had a raft of similar tunes, but some of them were trying to hit you over the head with this Kindergarten teacher idea to such an extreme so as to bring actual children in as backup singers.  Two over-the-top examples that immediately come to mind are: “Candy Man” by Sammy Davis Jr., or “Sing” by the Carpenters.

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